HINKLEY POINT: Somerset could have a nuclear fusion reactor
Somerset could end up with a nuclear fusion reactor under one long-term proposal for the Hinkley Point site.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has been asking UK local authorities to put forward expressions of interest in hosting a “fusion demonstrator plant” as part of a drive towards making fusion a viable option for energy generation.
Somerset County Council has thrown its name into the mix, believing that part of the Hinkley Point complex could host such a demonstrator in the years to come.
The council has said such a plant would “contribute significantly” to the local area, building on the investment currently being poured into Hinkley Point C.
At present, all of the UK’s nuclear power is generated by fission energy – where neutrons are fired into atoms of large elements (such as uranium), splitting them into smaller elements and releasing energy in the process.
Fusion energy, by contrast, uses large amounts of heat and pressure to force smaller elements to fuse together into larger elements in a confined space.
The UKAEA has been working on government-funded trials of fusion energy – known as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) – with a view to such technology becoming a viable part of Britain’s energy mix by the early-2040s.
Paul Hickson, the council’s strategic commissioning manager for economy and planning, laid out the reasons for the authority’s support of a fusion reactor in a report published on the council’s website.
He said in his written report: “STEP provides an opportunity for Somerset to capitalise on the county’s prominent position in nuclear and, if secured, siting the demonstrator plant in the county would contribute significantly to our efforts to maximise the lasting legacy from the investment made for the Hinkley Point C project.
“Should Somerset be successful in securing the location of the STEP project fusion demonstrator, there are likely to be long-term opportunities to reduce health and social inequalities through the additional economic growth that hosting the development will generate locally.”
The council has jointly bid for the Hinkley Point site to be considered alongside the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the two local district councils (Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton), Bridgwater & Taunton College and the Gravity site’s operators.
A fusion demonstrator plant would require at least 100 hectares of suitable land – which the county council believes could be secured either after the construction of Hinkley Point C or once the decommissioning work surrounding Hinkley Point A and B are completed.
The government has not confirmed when the successful bidder will be announced.
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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